Sunday 24 February 2019

Jamie Carragher: 'Quadruple is on for Pep Guardiola - but he will be judged on Champions League outcome'

 

'The past week felt like it had the potential to be a defining period for Guardiola’s ambition of all four trophies in a campaign.' Photo: Reuters/Carl Recine
'The past week felt like it had the potential to be a defining period for Guardiola’s ambition of all four trophies in a campaign.' Photo: Reuters/Carl Recine

Jamie Carragher

History beckons for Manchester City. The clean sweep is on. They will never have a better chance to become the first English side to complete the quadruple.

Such are the standards set by Pep Guardiola, winning one trophy will not meet expectations this season - even if it is the Premier League. Defending the title is the minimum requirement. Pep wants more. City appointed him to achieve more.

The club are on the threshold of rewriting the script of what is achievable in one season. The Carabao Cup final is coming, the FA Cup draw has opened up, City are back on top of the Premier League and no one in the Champions League wants to face them should they get past Schalke in the last 16.

No matter how much Guardiola wants to tell the world the quadruple is not and never has been a realistic target, do not believe him. At the start of this season he designed a squad to compete for every honour and his team selections betray his true feelings. His squad rotation has ensured a high-class starting XI in each fixture, regardless of the calibre of opponents in the early rounds of the cup.

He has not been prepared to sacrifice any game by giving a host of academy or under-23 players experience. With good reason, he thinks City can win every match.

When Guardiola reviewed last season, for all City's success in winning the Premier League and League Cup, there must have been regrets. The FA Cup was a missed opportunity, City inexplicably losing at Wigan.

A domestic treble - an amazing feat - has never been won before, so to blow the chance in those circumstances was a low point of their season.

The Champions League defeat by Liverpool hurt more, especially given the domestic superiority - there was a 25-point gap in the league between the clubs at that time.

City could have gone further in both competitions with a little improvement. Guardiola knew it. Everything this season has been geared to giving his players the same opportunity.

That shows the pressure he has put on his squad to go beyond what they did last year, and to put his successful City predecessors in the shade.

Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini did well in their reigns at the Etihad, but they were not game-changers in English football. We do not think of them in the same way as Matt Busby, Brian Clough, Bob Paisley or Alex Ferguson.

Defining When we think of a defining year in English football such as 1968, it is Busby holding aloft the European Cup at Wembley after victory over Benfica that comes to mind, not Joe Mercer winning the league title.

Guardiola was appointed by City with his position as a football visionary already secure due to his work in Barcelona and, to a lesser extent, Bayern Munich, but he must have recognised the only way he could be spoken about in the same glowing terms in England would be to go beyond what anyone thought possible here. That remains his challenge.

No matter what success he has earned throughout his career, there will always be grumbles about the funds he has access to giving him a massive advantage.

I do not subscribe to the argument that money is a guarantee of the kind of football and trophy-collecting Guardiola has overseen.

Nevertheless, those arguments will persist, especially with the investigation as to whether City have adhered to Uefa's Financial Fair Play rules. It means Guardiola has to achieve the extraordinary to set him apart.

Last year was all about the style of play differentiating him from previous title-winners. Impressive as that was, City had already won the title twice since the Abu Dhabi takeover.

The club's owners pursued him to take City to another level from Mancini and Pellegrini - to become Champions League winners. This is what separates domestic greatness from global recognition.

Guardiola's success in that competition will define his City reign. He is yet to replicate his Barcelona success, leaving Bayern with many in Germany underwhelmed by his Champions League campaigns, despite winning the double twice.

The past week felt like it had the potential to be a defining period for Guardiola's ambition of all four trophies in a campaign, especially as it was only 11 days ago that he must have thought Liverpool would go seven points ahead.

No one at City would have believed Liverpool would be in the position they are in at this stage of the season. The pressure on Jurgen Klopp's side was ramped up after City dropped points to Chelsea, Crystal Palace and Leicester City over Christmas, Guardiola continually talking about preferring to be in Liverpool's position.

Significant Overcoming Arsenal and Everton to go back to the top, albeit on goal difference having played a game more, felt significant.

Beating Chelsea tomorrow would be even more so, ensuring Liverpool have to defeat Bournemouth and secure a positive result against Manchester United in two weeks to keep the title destiny in their hands.

The FA Cup draw has been kind, too, with City certain to overcome Newport County unless they suffer what would probably be the biggest shock of all time.

For every other club in English history, the Quadruple has never been on the agenda. Guardiola has already led his club into uncharted territory by making it possible.

English football's first domestic treble is more feasible than it has ever been.

If he achieves that, his place in England's football history will certainly be secure - but the rest of the world will be still be asking, "Where is the European Cup?"

No matter how many league titles he wins, the Champions League will, ultimately, determine whether we come to view Guardiola's City triumph as an English or European success story. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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